That was the week that was…

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The week in theatre tweets, columns and reviews in London, the regions, Broadway and birthdays, May 30-June 5

Last Thursday saw the theatre world reeling, as things pivoted from farce to tragedy. First there was the sheer farce of Andrew Lloyd Webber taking to the pages of the Daily Mail to threaten to sue the government if the June 21 date for the implementation of Stage Four of its plans for coming out of lockdown and allowing non-socially distanced interactions in public spaces, including the 100% possible occupancy of theatres, was delayed; he was saying this even as the new Delta Covid variant was found to be much more transmissible. A hardly responsible position to take, not least because many of his younger cast members will not have received their vaccinations yet…..

Then there was the news that the Make a Difference Trust was disbanding. The charity has over the last 30 years — originally as West End Cares and Crusaid — raised and distributed millions to those affected by HIV/AIDS, but since the bulk of their fundraising is done through theatre events, COVID has meant that they have been unable to do so, and their unreserved funds have therefore becoming severely depleted.

As Melanie Tranter, Chair of MAD Trust, put it,

Two other passings were also of a company and an individual who have made a difference, too. Cornwall’s Kneehigh Theatre announced that the company was being wound down, following the departures earlier this year of founding artistic director Mike Shepherd and deputy Carl Grosse.

It stated that “Kneehigh’s financial stability has enabled the company to continue to create work throughout the pandemic…. The trustees and company reflected on a possible new future but concluded that it was better and more responsible to close Kneehigh and ensure an orderly wind down.”

And writer, director, theatre maker Chris Goode (pictured above), it was revealed by his husband Griffyn Gilligan in a social media posting on the same day, had “decided to end his life.” It follows the news the previous week that Goode had closed his company Chris Goode and Company.

There was an early outpouring of shock and grief of an influential and seemingly much-loved figure, as there always is in such circumstances. But it was quickly (and shockingly) replaced outrage in some quarters that he was even being celebrated at all, when it was reported by The Stage that he “was arrested for possessing indecent images just a few weeks before he killed himself.”

They went on to report:

The police confirmed to The Stage that they were called to an address in east London at about 1am on Wednesday May 5, β€œto reports of possession of indecent images”. It is understood these images were of children.

Officers attended the property and arrested a man in his 40s, the police confirmed, with that man now known to be Goode.

At the time, he was released under bail conditions and under investigation, while enquiries were ongoing.

He killed himself on June 1. It has not been confirmed to The Stage whether there were plans to charge Goode at the time of his death.”

Twitter, of course, immediately turned into both judge and jury, and he was instantly vilified, even before his body was in the ground. We may yet discover more unsavoury allegations about his life, but let’s remember first of all that he is already dead — so I’m not sure what further punishment people hope to meet on him. Meanwhile, he has a grieving husband and relatives, who are unwitting victims, too.

As his husband tweeted,

Nor had he been charged. He may well yet have been (we’ll never know now), but again, there is a presumption in English law of innocence until proven guilty — let alone charged. Yet somehow the twitter jury had decided already, fuelled by the ‘facts’ supplied so usefully by The Stage. Mob justice had taken over, abetted by the (so-called) industry paper.

I’m not here to defend him myself one way or the other. (I did not know him, I had never met him, did not follow him on Twitter, and as far as I know, only ever saw one of his shows Jubilee — at Lyric Hammersmith in 2018, on its transfer from Manchester’s Royal Exchange, which I had panned. As I stated,

“One of my colleagues sitting in front of me turned around at the interval and said that Jubilee was the worst play he’d seen in a decade. The husband of another skipped the second act entirely. As I was sorely tempted to do myself (though to do so would have meant I could not have filed this review, as you can’t only cover half a show). 

It’s certainly a marmite show: yet another colleague told me later that after she reviewed it during its original run at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre last year, it only narrowly missed being on her list of the top ten shows of the year. / So it may well be one of those shows you have to make up your own mind about. For me, it was an altogether punishing evening, dispensing with all the niceties of theatre – plot, sense, taste and point, not to mention comfort… It’s not so much a play as an incoherent muddle. It seems deliberately designed to infuriate and challenge; it sets out its confrontational, antagonist stall right from the beginning.”

As in art, so in his life and now, death: Goode is still dividing people. Maybe he’d be pleased by that, at least. But Twitter seems, as ever, to be making its decisions on the limited facts fed to it in the “official” channels of The Stage, and even more so in the unofficial channels of Twitter itself.

As I say, more yet may be revealed. But there is something deeply unsavoury about this summary rush to judgement when his body was barely cold; and the justification made by some that we believe his victims first and foremost, who are still here to speak (and have already suffered in silence for far too long). That, too, is true. But his death is already final; I’m ready to believe them, but first we must hear from them, and not just third party hearsay.

MY COLUMNS AND REVIEWS OF THE WEEK

Monday May 31

  • Wednesday June 2

My column for today is here: shentonstage.com/june-2-recalibrating-my-role-as-a-critic/

  • Thursday June 3

My column for today is here: http://shentonstage.com/june-3-theatres-well-miss-if-when-theyre-gone/

REVIEWS AND REVIEW TWEETS OF THE WEEK

There’s been nothing nicer to see theatre reviews, for actual performances, in the papers again — including Susannah Clapp’s review column back in The Observer last Sunday, and not one but two previews by Clive Davis on the same day in in The Times this week — one in the news pages, another in T2.

My Reviews this Week:

  • Sunday May 30: Walden (opened June 5, Pinter Theatre)

Review: http://shentonstage.com/walden-harold-pinter-theatre-london-sw1/

  • Wednesday June 2: Amelie (opened June 2, Criterion Theatre)

Review: shentonstage.com/amelie/

In addition to these full reviews, I attended three other shows:

I have become a fan – and friend — of Mark Lockyer, ever since I saw his scorchingly honest solo show Living with the Lights On at its Young Vic premiere at a few years ago. I subsequently interviewed him for The Stage, and invited him to talk to my acting students at Arts Ed.

And last week he turned up virtually on my doorstep (but not unbidden), at Kennington’s utterly unrecognisable White Bear Theatre, a venue I’d not visited for some years but whose formerly dingy environs have now been relocated to an intimate space above the pub and not behind it, which itself is no longer the grimy place it used to be.

His latest solo show Take off Your Cornflakes is a departure from the two earlier solo shows I’ve seen of his, which as well as the one mentioned above also included Keep on Walking Federico in 2019. Those both told deeply personal, first-hand accounts of journeys from his own life. The new one, however, is about another man, departing his own life in every sense: it tells the story of a London bus driver who, after being diagnosed with early onset dementia at just 52, slowly deteriorates until he can no longer recognise his own beloved wife.

It’s a heartbreaking story, and Lockyer — guided by the subtle direction of Michel Kingsbury — charts it with lightning shifts of character (as he plays both husband and wife and other people) and sensitivity.

Another surprise at Hampstead Theatre, as part of its delayed 60th anniversary celebration of past hits from its repertoire, is Alfred Fagon’s The Date of a Black Man, originally premiered at Hampstead in 1975, and still — shockingly — a surprise today, not least for the fact of finding it here at all. While the far more ethnically diverse Kiln Theatre just a few stops north on the Jubilee Line at Kilburn has long offered stories from a multi-racial Britain, Hampstead has typically stuck to more white stories — or, when it has offered a different one, it has come from across the Atlantic, as in Race (albeit written by a white man, David Mamet).

A cry of poetic rage against the limited opportunities for black people to define and promote their own cultural interests in 70s Britain, it portrays two strutting young black men and the power play they make over an older woman whom one of them made pregnant when he was just 15 (and she 28). There a Pintereque sense of menace and ownership, partly it feels inspired or at least influenced by Pinter’s The Homecoming, originally premiered a decade earlier, as they seek to sell her to the highest bidder; but there’s also more forthright talk about the commodification of black male sexuality, too, which makes it more radical.

Finally, The Show Must On! — delayed some six months from its original planned run last December that was postponed owing to the lockdown — began as a charity tee-shirt to celebrate the West End and became a show, the reverse of the usual chicken-egg pattern of things. It ends tonight, but will be reaching a much wider audience than just an in-theatre one when the last show is live-streamed, and will subsequently be available to watch free for the next week.

It turns out to be a wonderful ad for the West End, with cast members — from leads to understudies and covers – perfuming numbers from 18 different shows. Some — like the Phantom of the Opera’s Lucy St Louis and Rhys Whitfield, are making their stage debuts in roles they are yet to play in the show itself; ditto, at least in London, is Olly Dobson, performing The Power of Love from Back to the Future the Musical that is yet to begin performances in the West End (but was seen in Manchester last year before the first lockdown).

The whole event turned out to be a joyous — and at times moving — portrait of the resilience and importance of the West End, and the audiences who love it.

LONDON HEADLINES OF THE WEEK

REGIONAL/ TOURING AND FESTIVAL HEADLINES OF THE WEEK

BROADWAY HEADLINES OF THE WEEK

STREAMING/ONLINE NEWS OF THE WEEK

EXECUTIVE ANNOUNCEMENTS OF THE WEEK:

COVID NEWS TWEETS OF THE WEEK

THEATRE BIRTHDAYS OF THE WEEK

  • Monday May 31
  • Tuesday June 1
  • Wednesday June 2
  • Thursday June 3
  • Saturday June 5

AND FINALLY, SOME FAVOURITE PERSONAL TWEETS OF THE WEEK

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